Iceland was definitely one of the most memorable trips that I have been on. It all start with a $300 dollar flight booked through Wow Air. After a lot of research, I decided on self-driving through Iceland and just East, South and West but not the North. I knew I’d be missing out on some Game of Thrones film shoot sights but with my limited 7 days, 6 nights, I wanted to get the most of Iceland.
In several of blogs that I read, they said that Google Maps would not be reliable in Iceland however I only navigated using Google Map. My best piece of advice would be that before you leave, star everything on Google maps. Don’t mind mine in the middle of the ocean haha!
A lot of people asked me what I packed. Well, my Canada Goose for one and that really helped keep me warm so I wasn’t too concerned with wearing so many layers or thick sweaters underneath; so I cheated haha. If you don’t have a Canada Goose jacket, I would recommend packing layers. It does get pretty windy and nighttime can get extremely cold. I purchased these snow boots off of Amazon for $29.90 and they were perfect. They were lightweight and durable enough for the trip however since they were so cheap, I tossed them before getting on my flight back home.
Let me first start off by saying that I am not a planned vacation traveler. I am more of the, just go and see what happens. Iceland was the first trip I ever planned out an itinerary and it definitely was the most memorable so far so I wanted to share my itinerary with you! If you don’t want to read my commentary and just want my itinerary, click here!
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I. Fly into Keflavík International Airport – Land at 4:40AM
I booked my car through IceRental4x4. As certain roads in Iceland are graded suitable only for certain cars depending on the weather, I didn’t want to take the chance and booked a 4×4 car suitable for F-roads.
We waited at the airport for a representative from IceRental. They cycle into the airport every 15 minutes so don’t worry if you don’t see them right away.
II. Seljalandsfoss – 2H 5M Drive
Of all the waterfalls I saw, this one was the largest. It was beautiful to look at. While driving there, you’ll clearly see the waterfall from several kilometers away. There was ample amounts of parking but it wasn’t lined so it was a “park where you want”.
Try to walk behind the waterfall. You will get extremely wet from the waterfall and it is a little bit unstable but I promise it is worth the risk. If you land early in the morning like I did, it is also a great wake up tactic.
III. Skógarfoss – 25M Drive
Walk up the stairs to the top of the waterfall however it is definitely not for the faint of heart. There are a lot of stairs and sometimes, they get a little far apart for those lacking in height. However once you get up to the top, you’ll recognize this location from Justin Bieber’s music video for “I’ll Show You” or from Thor: The Dark World.
Unfortunately it is illegal to get to where Justin is in the photo above and from first hand experience I know why; it is extremely windy!
Now apart from the familiarity of the overhang, the actual waterfall is also a beautiful site.
IV. Dyrhólaey – 30M Drive
There are large steep cliffs to get to the lighthouse at Dyrhólaey. If you do not have a 4×4 car, do not attempt to drive up the cliffs! It is rocky and extremely steep at some points and its even tougher on the way down. If you feel like your car won’t make it up the cliffs, you can park at the bottom and walk up. There is a beautiful view up top so even though the drive or walk is tough, do it!
The arch and lighthouse was tough to actually see because the wind kept pushing me in the opposite direction. No joke, literally I would try to walk towards the lighthouse and I would move backwards. Luckily the opposite direction’s view was just as beautiful.
V. Hálsanefshellir Cave aka Black Sand Beach – 25M Drive
This was definitely the most crowded out of all the places so far. There is a restaurant here as well called the Black Sand Restaurant. One thing you’ll quickly discover about Iceland outside of Reykjavik, there aren’t a lot of place to dine out so eat where you can. However, this location is right next to Vik which has an amazing restaurant.
Now when they call it the Black Sand Beach, they are not kidding. The sand is super dark and soft but if you are wearing light colored shoes or your soles are white, expect them to be stained with black sand. Also, since it is a beach, it is extremely windy. I couldn’t get my jacket hood to stay up.
VI. Vik – 11M Drive
We settled into our beds at Guesthouse Galleri Vík. It felt like we were in our friend’s grandmother’s home in a good, welcoming way. One thing you’ll realize about my itinerary is that I made the accommodations so that we wouldn’t have to wake up too early for the next morning activities. There is also the main headquarters of Icewear in Vik. You can take a tour of the factory and shop if you can make the time. We were exhausted from our early morning arrival so we took a nap. 😴😴😴 Around 6:30PM, we went to eat dinner at Suður-Vík Restaurant, 1 of 3 restaurants in Vik. There was a 10 minute wait but as we sat waiting for a table, a lot of people started rolling in. If you don’t have a prior reservation, I’d recommend getting there before 7. After dinner, we unsuccessfully tried to see the Northern Lights.
Some quick tips about the Aurora Borealis: It actually is not the pretty bright green and white colors you see in photos. It is a yellowish tint that you see almost softly dancing in the sky. If you blink or don’t pay attention, you could potentially miss it. I was there during the “off-reason” or during their summer so they do start to have 20-24 hour daylight. Yes, you read that right, 24 hour daylight. Meaning, when I was out at 1am, the northern sky was dark but the southern sky was still brightly lit. However, during their winter, you get maybe 4 hours of daylight however, it does make it much easier to see the Northern lights. Also, before venturing out, be sure to check out the cloud forecast to see where the non-cloudy parts are because you will only see the Aurora Borealis when the sky is clear.
I. Solheimasandur DC-3 Plane Wreck
Finding the parking lot for Solheimasandur is not easy to find. There are no signs and no mention of parking so it is easy to miss. You used to be able to drive all the way up to the plane however after complaints from the locals, you now have to park your car and hike about 1-2 hours there. It is a bit uneasy because you’re not sure if you parked in the right place and you don’t see the plane until the last 5 minutes of the hike. However if you see yellow posts of both sides of your hike, then you are walking on the right path. Trust me the view is worth it.
Climbing on top of the plane was not an easy feat for someone as short as I am. Just for reference, I am 5ft 3in. However I watched a 6ft man just jump on top of the plane. If you are as short as I am, bring gloves because the holds that you’ll use to get up can be a bit sharp.
The plane is on a black sand beach so enjoy the view and photos! The background is beautiful especially for an early morning hike. We started our hike around 6AM and no one was here however while we were walking back around 8AM, there was a crowd of people hiking towards the plane so I would recommend you start early.
II. Drive to Jökulsárlón – 2H 14M
If you started early morning like we did, make sure you stop by Vik’s gas station to fill up on gas and grab some car snacks. Again, there aren’t many restaurants outside of Reykjavik so grab food when you can!
The drive is really long to Jökulsárlón but the sights are absolutely beautiful. I don’t quite remember where this photo was taken but since the glaciers are in the background, it has to be around 20 minutes from our arrival. I don’t recommend this to anyone but we stopped on the side of the road and took this photo in the middle of the road. One thing about driving in Iceland, NEVER stop on the road, ALWAYS pull off to the side. The roads are narrow and because the drive is long, people don’t pay that great attention.
We actually got to Jökulsárlón without any plans. I knew the Glaciers were melting so we wouldn’t have the opportunity to do too much so it was more of a see what they have and see if it fits into our schedule So my blonde moment, I actually thought that you could drive up to the glaciers and venture off on your own. Turns out it is actually considered trespassing to go onto the glacier unattended by a licensed glacier guide. The glacier guides are trained to save you in case you fall down a “mulan” or crack in the glacier.
We booked with the company Icelandic Mountain Guide. They have a booth setup there so don’t worry about booking in advance. One thing to note about Iceland is that everyone pretty much speaks English.
The hike takes anywhere from 2-3 hours. They equip you with crampons and an ice pick and of course, teach you how to safely maneuver with them as they are sharp and potentially dangerous. Otherwise, it is definitely a sight to see. Fun facts, many films have been shot on Vatnajökull including Batman Begins and Game of Thrones.
III. Systrakaffi, Kirkjubæjarklaustur – 1H 28M Drive
A local recommended that I stop at Systrakaffi to eat dinner on my way back. The soup is self service and amazing and I got the pizza which also was great. We also had a couple of beers too, cider for me obviously, and that was amazing as well.
IV. Stay at Guesthouse Bitra B&B – 2H 13M Drive
All of our accommodations were purposely booked to be closer to our next day activities rather than that nights’ so typically our drive to the next bed was a bit long but worth it when trying to wake up the next morning. Guesthouse Bitra B&B was probably my least favorite of the beds only because the rooms were small and a bit dormitory-like but the location had to be the most authentic. As soon as you drive in, you were greeted by the horses on the land. If you drive into Selfoss, it is definitely suburbia with a lot of grocery stores and American-recognizable chain restaurants including Subway which we got for lunch tomorrow.
I. Kerið Crater – 23M Drive
Since we had dog sledding at 10 AM, we decided to wake up early to see some sights around the area. We were deciding between Kerið Crater and Urriðafoss Waterfall but we had seen enough waterfalls so far so we headed to the crater.
It was absolutely a sight to see. The water was a beautiful emerald color and you could walk all the way down or walk all the way around.
II. Dog Sledding – 36M Drive
I could have gone to Iceland three weeks prior to when I actually went however, the day I wanted to go dog sledding was fully booked so I guess you could say I planned my trip around dog sledding.
It was absolutely amazing though. Due to the weather, we did dog sled on dry land however, if the weather is cold enough probably during the winter, you would dog sledding on snow. The sled held a total of four people and half way through, we took a break, thanked the dogs that were pulling our sled and switched with the people initially sitting in the back.
The best part of the experience actually came after the dog sledding portion was over because we were able to meet all of the dogs at the facility.
They have over 70 dogs and I’m pretty sure I met each and every one. The employees are super kind and even though my cousin and I asked to basically go in every cage with every dog, they were more than happy to help us.
III. Gullfoss Waterfall – 1H 11M Drive
I can’t even begin to describe how crowded it was at Gullfoss Waterfall. We were very lucky with everywhere we went prior to never hit a massive tour bus crowd but Gullfoss Waterfall was definitely not that case.
Luckily, there a lot of places to walk around to see the waterfall so definitely walk around but again, I had my fill of waterfalls so we chose to go straight to the Geysir.
IV. Geysir – 10M Drive
Remember that these are natural springs and with that comes the rotten egg smell; it’s just sulfur.
Now there is nothing that says the Geysir will erupt is every minute or every 5 seconds. It is definitely frequent enough to see if a couple of times however, photo-wise, it seemed like forever. Don’t skip over this attraction! It definitely gets crowded but just a bit of advice, park at the second lot. The main lot is overcrowded and filled but I promise there is another parking lot right after that one that basically no one parks in.
V. Þingvellir – 51M Drive
We initially went to the main parking lot where everyone was. Basically if you Google, Þingvellir, thats the parking lot it’ll take you to. DON’T DO IT; go directly to Öxanafoss Parking Trailhead.
Instead of paying for parking and having to hike an hour with other people getting in your photo, park at Öxanafoss for free and walk right in-between the North American and Eurasian plate tectonics basically by yourself.
Plus it will lead you directly to Öxanafoss Waterfall.
VI. Stay at Hverinn – Sælureitur í sveitinni – 1H 20M Drive
We drove up to our accommodations at Hverinn but I did pass a toll for a tunnel near Hvalfjarðarsveit so just some forewarning that you need cash for the toll. There is a restaurant right next to the hotel owned by the same owner. I recommend the burger! There isn’t much in the area so don’t expect attractions. The room had Apple TV and Wifi so we watched a movie on Netflix and went straight to sleep.
I. Hotel Husafell – 24M Drive
Since we had to be at Húsafell Information center at 10AM for the Into the Glacier tour, we decided to grab some breakfast at Hotel Husafell right next door. It was a continental breakfast buffet however it was the only place where the yogurt wasn’t sour! Was it worth the $25 dollars, probably not but again get food when you can because you don’t know where or when the next restaurant will be.
II. Into the Glacier
When in Iceland right? We decided to take a tour into an actual Glacier.
This one is a man-made cave however with the current weather, there really is no other option. The Into the Glacier Classic Tour was great. They took you up in a large army truck to the entrance of the glacier.
Inside the Glacier, you are given crampons to wear around the tour. Your tour guide explains the history and science behind the Glacier and the mountain. You even get to see some of the rooms that were specifically created for weddings and special events. My feet did start to get cold while walking around the Glacier so definitely wear warm shoes.
III. Snaefellsnes Peninsula – 1H 52M Drive
Wow, it is unbelievably windy in this area of Iceland. Wear lots of layers, scarves and gloves. But what a beautiful site.
You know when you breathe in really fresh air and it just smells fresh and clean too? I can’t describe it very well but Snaefellsnes is just that kind of that, you have to be there moment.
IV. Hellnar & Djúpalónssandur Beach – 45M Drive
Hellnar is an old fishing village so you’re not going to find a lot around here. There are other towns surrounding the area that I would definitely go and explore but definitely venture down to Djúpalónssandur beach.
Getting onto the beach is extremely rocky so please be careful. The rocks that you step on to get to the cave area may seen stable but trust me I know from first hand experience, they love to move as soon as you step on them.
V. Snaefellsjökull Glacier – 23M Drive
If you do not have a 4×4 car, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE UP THE GLACIER. My 4×4 car barely made it down and I mean barely to the point where I was saying my prayers because I was sure I was going to die on the way down.
At the bottom before heading up the mountain to the Glacier is a sign for Olafsvik. I love the movie Frozen so obviously I had to take a photo with the sign. 😁😁
If you make it up the mountain, it is quite a beautiful sight. But again, if you don’t feel confident in your car or driving abilities, do not attempt to drive up the mountain.
VI. Hotel Rjúkandi – 56M Drive
We only stopped here because we weren’t sure if there would be any restaurants on the way back however I’m so glad we ended up stopping here. Not only did they have great food but I definitely owe seeing the Aurora Borealis to the employee behind the counter at Hotel Rjúkandi. She told me that they had seen the Aurora Borealis the night before so we knew the vicinity would be the best location to try to see it. As for food, I had a curry rice meal which was yummy!
VII. Icelandair Hotel Hamar – 46M Drive
Icelandair Hotel Hamar was the nicest hotel out of all of our accommodations. Not to be so pretentious, but this was definitely more my style. Super clean, secluded, and amazing view!
VIII. Aurora Borealis
Can you believe that in the summer, Iceland has 24 hour daylight? We saw the Aurora Borealis around 1 AM. On the north side of the sky, it was pitch dark and the opposite side, you could still see sunlight over the mountain.
We drove half way between our hotel and the restaurant we ate at to see the Northern lights. I know the Northern lights look green in the photo but in the sky it almost looked yellow. If you don’t notice the slight ting of light in the sky, you could potentially miss it. The Aurora Borealis only lasted 15 minutes this night.
I. Horseback Riding Tour – 1H 3M Drive
For our last day, I booked two different activities so horseback riding had to be at 9:30 in the morning. I booked through the company, Íslenski Hesturinn for the Volcanic landscape tour.
We drove to the location and spent the first 10 minutes learning what types of riding we were going to do. Icelandic horses do a special type of walk or gait called the tölt and the instructor explained how to get a Icelandic horse to tölt. We were introduced to our horse and the instructors helped us get onto our horses and we were off. We road together as a group and only stopped for sights. It was a larger group so we weren’t really allowed to ride freely. If that isn’t your thing, I wouldn’t recommend this. Otherwise, just as a tourist activity, have fun! You’re allowed to pet your horse while riding and when first being introduced to your horse. Just a tip: get under their mane and scratch them there, they love it!
II. Mountain Safari Quad Tour – 8M Drive
As soon as horseback riding was done, we drove straight to Mountain Safari Quad Tour. This is a must do!
I may be a bit biased because we were the only two on the tour so the instructor could max out on speed and that definitely made it more enjoyable for us. We went into a river, on the road, on dirt, and pavement. Our midway stop was on top of a mountain where we got to take photos. Again, if you are in the Reykjavik area, this is a must do!
III. Svarta Kaffið – 15M Drive
Hot soup in a bread bowl after riding an ATV in 3 degrees Celsius weather? I just makes sense!
I got the cauliflower soup but there were meat options as well. They were all cream based soups. Street parking was super easy, just remember to feed the meter.
IV. Handknitting Association of Iceland
Wool is the largest export of Iceland and I found that the cheapest price for wool sweaters was at the Handknitting Association of Iceland. They have two shops in Reykjavík and they’re fun to browse even for non-sweater wool items like hats and shoes. If you are looking for wool items, definitely check out their shops.
V. Valdís – 7M Drive
Even in 3 degree Celsius weather, I still crave ice cream! 😪😪😪
Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland. It is the largest church and potentially the tallest structure in Iceland. However it wasn’t very interesting to me. 😓😓😓
VII. Galaxy Pod Hostel – 8M Drive
I’ve always wanted to stay at those cool pod hotel in Japan so when I saw there were pod hostels in Iceland, I jumped on the opportunity. Why not? It was only for one night so we booked it for the experience. Each pod has charging stations, lights, and sound systems. It is a hostel though so you are sharing the overall room with other people but each pod is private.
I was so exhausted that I started sleeping from 4PM (not intentionally) and didn’t wake up until 5AM. I wish I could say we went out on the town on our last night in Iceland, especially in Reykjavik but I was tired… 😴😴😴
I. Brauð & Co. – 7M Drive
By Day 6 in Iceland, all I wanted was a New Jersey bagel with cream cheese. Luckily Brauð & Co. was able to satisfy my craving until I got home.
I got a almond danish and OMG I can’t even describe how mouthwatering delicious it was.
II. Hvalfjardarlaug – 49M Drive
The Blue Lagoon was under construction and closed during the time that we were there so we had to find an alternative. Hvalfjardarlaug is the site of a geothermal natural spring. Of course, the actual hot-pot is manmade but the water is naturally heated. Remember that since it is a natural geothermal pot, it does smell like sulfur or rotten eggs but the view and the experience is worth it.
When you get on location, you are actually trespassing onto someone else’s property. When we drove on, the private road sign was down so we did not see it. However as we were leaving it was up. Please go at your own risk.
III. Fly out of Keflavík International Airport – @ 3:20PM
Let me know if there is anything that you guys want me to build on more. Have you been to Iceland before and what was your favorite place?